The River of Information

December 22, 2014 by

The metaphor of information as a flowing stream has been with us for a long time and seems as powerful as ever.

The other day I read this, by Steven Levy in the May 2014 issue of Wired magazine (p. 104 for my fellow printoholics):

“Ever since Twitter and Facebook debuted their feeds in 2006, the model of continually streaming updates has come to define how we consume information. We’ve grown accustomed to a world in which data flows by us, letting us dip into the stream whenever, wherever, and however we want.”

Levy’s words put me in mind of another passage, written exactly 100 years before by John Cotton Dana (Special Libraries, May 1914, p. 73):

“The proper view of printed things is, that the stream thereof need not be anywhere completely stored behind the dykes and dams formed by the shelves of any library or of any group of libraries: but that from that stream as it rushes by expert observers should select what is pertinent each to his own constituency, hold it as long as it continues to have value to those for whom he selects it, make it easily accessible by some simple process, and then let it go.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same. And the river keeps on flowing.

The New Net-Centric Librarian

November 25, 2014 by

I’ve posted the presentation I gave last month for the Long Island Library Resources Council. It’s entitled “The New Net-Centric Librarian” and you can see it at http://www.slideshare.net/davidshumaker/lilrc-new-netcentriclibrarianabridgednarration .

Let me know if you have comments or questions!

Persuading the Faculty

November 6, 2014 by

A question was posted on the emlibs list (Emlibs@listserv.miamioh.edu) recently asking how to persuade faculty and administrators that embedded librarian involvement in online classes is “important and effective.”

It’s a good question — but it may not be the right question. Instead of adopting the idea that we are going to “convince” or “persuade”, I advocate taking a more consultative approach. (See my post from July 3, 2014, “Selling and Embedded Librarians”.) Here are a few key points that I would emphasize:

1. Don’t over-sell. There’s no guarantee that librarian involvement will be “important and effective.” It depends on what the nature of the involvement is, the instructional skills of the librarian, the level of collaboration and integration of information skills into the course learning goals and assignments.

2. Start by understanding the audience. What are their perceptions and pain points? Is the term “information literacy” familiar to the audience? Should another term be used? Is it viewed favorably — is there a history (positive or negative) of discussion and implementation of efforts to improve student information skills? Has the institution established learning outcomes that include some form of information skills? Are there faculty who already perceive a problem with student achievement, or is this not on anyone’s radar? And what’s the attitude towards the library? Are librarians seen as credible academic partners, or as second-class support staff? Pushing a message without understanding the audience is a high-risk adventure.

3. Know what you want to accomplish , specifically. “Embedded librarianship” is not specific enough as a goal, and you will need various forms of collaboration and support depending on what the desired outcome is. Do you need to start by establishing program learning objectives? Or by identifying key courses where an embedded librarian would have a lot to contribute to course goals? Or do you already have a list of courses that would be appropriate?

4. Know what you will need from your audience as well. Remember that embedded librarianship is a partnership and that means resources, time, and commitment from all involved. Don’t pretend that it’s cost-free to the faculty. Rather, it’s worth the cost if done well.

5. Examples — models — help a lot. The best ones are from your own institution — which is one of the reasons why I recommend pilot projects. There are many in the literature as well, including a number in my book “The Embedded Librarian” and my report (see addendum and appendices) on the SLA.org website, also the books edited by Cass Kvenild and Kaijsa Calkins; and by Elizabeth Leonard and Erin McCaffrey.

Fundamentally, all this goes back to assessing readiness (as a library and as a university) and knowing where you are. You can’t map your route until you know both your destination and your starting point.

 

Process and Timing

October 29, 2014 by

Process and timing — such boring concepts … and it’s essential to know them if you want to be successful in engaging with your community.

I was reminded of this last week at the Long Island Library Resources Council’s 23rd Annual Conference on Libraries and the Future, in Bethpage, NY. Our dinner speaker on Thursday evening was Michaelle Solages, New York State Assemblywoman and former access services supervisor at the Axinn Library of Hofstra University.

Ms. Solages’ talk was a review of the New York state budget process, with advice for librarians about the timing and process for effective advocacy. Afterward, one of the attendees who has been involved in library advocacy with the state legislature told me that the presentation contained important new insights that the library group could use to strengthen its advocacy program. … So, even when you think you know “the system” — it’s not a bad idea to check your knowledge and be open to new information at any time!

Thus reminded of the importance of timing and process, I returned home Friday night and began to catch up over the weekend with things I had missed while I was away. One of them was a notice about a series of meetings coming up soon to discuss a revised land use plan for the suburban community where I live.  Now, we have a nice little community library that is within the boundaries of this land use plan, and it’s in a building that’s pretty much the same as it was 30 — maybe 50 — years ago. But as I read through the planning documents, I found not one mention of the library! There was lots of talk about livable communities and community spaces and so on, but not one word about the library’s role in the re-envisioned community! How can that be? If the planning board doesn’t understand the community role of the public library (they should), then the county library board, and the Friends of the Library (I’m a member) should be telling them. This is the critical time for the library in our community. It can either be our hub for the next 50 years, or get stuck in the 50-years-ago past. Understanding and working with the process will be essential. Timing is “everything”.

Well, I’ve started some inquiries. I don’t think it’s too late … yet. We’ll see what happens.

 

The Paradox of Relevance

October 3, 2014 by

So often in the library literature we read various prescriptions for “remaining relevant”. Some librarians adopt that as an unofficial mission statement. Their strategic goal is to “stay relevant.”

I think we should stop talking about how to remain relevant. Being relevant isn’t a goal, it’s a by-product. If we focus outward, on how we will contribute to our communities, and not inward, on our own “relevance”, we will discover much to our surprise that we have become not only relevant, but indispensable. And that’s the paradox.

Let’s go a step further. In an interview (Harvard Business Review, March 2014, p. 128), John Cleese (of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers fame) talked about his foray into management training. He said, “…we decided that the ideal leader was the one trying to make himself dispensable.” Let’s be those leaders. Let’s adopt the goal to empower our communities and contribute to their success. Let’s build and field the tools and resources they need, even if especially when it might mean they don’t keep coming to us for the same old things. If we keep trying to work ourselves out of a job, we might find the next job they’ll want us to tackle is just crying out for our attention. And that’s the paradox.

The Knight News Challenge

October 3, 2014 by

Colleagues Elizabeth Kelsen Huber, Elizabeth Leonard, and I submitted a proposal earlier this week in the Knight Foundation’s library challenge competition. Briefly, our initiative is to collect stories and models of librarians engaging with the community, and then to disseminate successful practices and lessons learned.

Please visit our proposal at http://kng.ht/1CIsAIC and give us your feedback!

October is Embedded Librarians Month

September 27, 2014 by

Well, maybe not according to any official declaration, but it sure seems like it to me. I’ll be participating in three programs during the month. Here are the details in case you’d like to join in.

On Wednesday, October 8, I’ll be participating in Dr. Valerie Hill’s program, “Embedding Librarians in Digital Culture”, as part of the web-based Library 2.014 conference. The presentation begins at 7 p.m. US Eastern time. See http://www.library20.com/forum/topics/embedding-librarians-in-digital-culture?xg_source=activity for details.

A week later, on October 15, I’ll be in another web-based conference. This one is the Special Libraries Association’s 2014 Virtual Conference, a reprise of selected presentations from the annual conference held in Vancouver last June. So, if you weren’t able to get to Vancouver, and would like to join in the conversation on “Disruption, Alignment, and Embedded Librarianship: Connecting the Dots, and Avoiding the Traps,” this is your chance. (And if you were there, join in and let’s continue the conversation.) The session starts at 3 p.m. US Eastern; see  https://www.sla.org/learn/2014-virtual-conference/ for more information.

Last but not least, on Friday, October 24 I’ll be at the 23rd Annual Conference on Libraries and the Future, sponsored by the Long Island Library Resources Council. This sounds like a really interesting program and I’m looking forward to it. My presentation for this event will be entitled “The New Net-Centric Librarian.” The website for more information is http://www.lilrc.org/event/1411/

Hope you’ll be able to join me in one, two, or all three of these events!

If You Have to Ask …

August 31, 2014 by

Recently, I was re-reading an old document (from 1993, actually) that contained advice I’ve seen over and over in the library literature, and disagree with pretty strongly.

Talking about corporate librarians, the authors say that “a large number of our potential customers do not use our services” and go on to advocate that “we should interview non-customers whenever possible. We can ask how they obtain and use information and what we could do to provide it.”

While I applaud the emphasis on outreach, I have two problems with this line of thinking.

First, we shouldn’t be measured solely by our reach, or what proportion of our potential audience comes in contact with us in some way. That may be a more important measure in some contexts than others. But as a rule it’s more important that we reach the right audiences — the ones who need us the most. Where, in the corporation, government agency, law firm, etc. can we have the biggest impact? In the university, which courses have the heaviest information fluency component? Embed instruction in those — don’t worry about the rest.

Second, I’ve generally found that asking people about their information behavior is a relatively unproductive exercise. There are exceptions, but for the most part, they don’t tend to think about it. They’re not aware of the options they could have. Information is secondary, it’s a tool to get some other goal accomplished. It’s that goal that they’re focused on. So instead of asking them about information, ask them what they’re working on. Better yet, observe what they’re working on. And by all means don’t ask them what you should do to provide information. Two skills the librarian should bring are the ability to  analyze the information dimension of a situation, and the ability to improve it. If we can’t do that, then they probably don’t need us. But we shouldn’t be asking our “potential customers” to do our job for us.

Both of these points fit well with embedded librarianship. Embedded librarians should think strategically about where to embed: who needs us the most; where can we have the greatest impact? And the more embedded librarians collaborate with a group, the more we understand the nature of their work, and the role of information and knowledge in it — and the more opportunities we see to make a difference. So, we don’t have to ask — we know.

Law Firm Librarians Moving Quickly to Embedded Model

August 1, 2014 by

Over at the Dewey B Strategic blog, Jean O’Grady reports a few tidbits from the American Lawyer 2014 survey of law firm librarians. Among those tidbits: “81% of are embedding librarian in practice groups up from 14% in 2012.

That’s an amazing change! It sounds like embedded librarianship has become standard operating practice in law firms. Not that I’m surprised — in my SLA-funded research I studied a leading firm that had an outstanding program, and that was back in 2009 and 2011. It’s great to see the practice spreading!

(The ALM survey report is here; but unfortunately it’s behind a paywall.)

 

Don’t Re-Design Your Website!

July 20, 2014 by

I worked on my first corporate intranet design and content development plan over 20 years ago, so by now I’ve witnessed and participated in multiple generations of website redesign projects in various organizations and settings. Typically these have been grand, top-down affairs that start with complaints that “nobody can find what they need” and involve wireframes, various forms of testing, and a complete overhaul of the site’s navigational structure.

A recent conversation caused me to look at website design in a new light, and to think that it’s time (past time?) for a new approach. There are two things wrong with the old top-down redesign process:

1. It bogs down in trying to address the whole site at once, rather than applying a systematic segmenting approach to address the needs of a given audience. Good marketing involves thinking through who the key audiences are, understanding the purposes and processes in how each one uses the site, and customizing to meet their needs. By taking a site-wide approach, top-down redesign projects dissipate the energy and attention paid to specific audiences.

2. It overlooks the integration of media. With the proliferation of social media and content targeted to mobile as well as stationary devices, a website is only one element in a well-developed communication strategy. By focusing only on the web piece, the traditional approach relegates media integration to an afterthought.

So, what might replace traditional website redesign? Here are a couple ideas:

1. Keep a light hand on high level navigation. Don’t get bogged down in it.

2. Instead, start by identifying and understanding the key audiences. What do they need to hear from us? What content and capabilities do we want to deliver to each one?

3. Develop and maintain the content, messages the audience needs. Pay attention to timing and incorporate a variety of media as appropriate. Keep in touch; know whether it’s working and watch for evolving needs.


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